In a national referendum over what was our Memorial Day weekend, voters in Ireland voted to give the same marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples as are enjoyed by heterosexual couples. Noting the task that lies ahead for the Church in light of this decision, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin called for the church to do a “reality check.”
On the heels of this vote, the Gallup organization released polling results on the percentage shift in moral acceptability across a range of issues from 2001 to 2015. With the 2001 percentage listed first and the 2015 listed second, this is what Gallup found:
Gay and lesbian relations 40 63 +23
Having a baby outside of marriage 45 61 +16
Sex between an unmarried man and woman 53 68 +15
Divorce 59 71 +12
Medical research using stem cells from 52 64 +12
Polygamy 7 16 +9
Human cloning 7 15 +8
Doctor-assisted suicide 49 56 +7
Suicide 13 19 +6
Gambling 63 67 +4
Abortion 42 45 +3
Animal cloning 31 34 +3
Buying and wearing clothing made of animal fur 60 61 +1
Adultery 7 8 +1
The death penalty 63 60 -3
Medical testing on animals 65 56 -9
Two other Gallup polls in 2015 found that 32% of Americans thought that animals should have the same rights as people and 51% thought that marijuana use should be legalized.
What these poll results suggest to me is that the shift in American culture toward the selfserving and secular has been seismic. Certainly not all of these issues have the same implications for society or for the Church, but many of the arguments in favor of a large number of these Gallup issues tend to be placed in the social justice arena, social justice being roughly defined as the fair administration of laws conforming to the natural law that all persons, irrespective of ethnic origin, gender, possessions, race, religion, etc., are to be treated equally and without prejudice.
A few Sundays ago I preached about Jesus’ instruction to be in the world but not of the world, and these Gallup numbers present the Church with the data that flesh out that challenge. And at least for me, the challenge for the Church is not about the inclusion of certain groups or people or ideas. Christ’s one holy catholic and apostolic church has always been called to be inclusive, but as Paul told the Romans, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
Many proponents of these Gallup issues are not simply seeking inclusion in a vast secular tapestry. If the Church is to remain relevant and lively, many say, the Church must be inclusive, as well. But inclusion for some of these issues is not that simple. Inclusion becomes conformation – the fundamental restructuring of the received sacramental life of the Church (when it comes to issues like marriage) and basic doctrines such as the sanctity of life (when it comes to issues like cloning and abortion).
Do we need a reality check? Always. I just don’t want to see the Church become another reality show.